Apparent hazing death will prompt reforms - Florida governor

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 02, 2011 9:18 PM
Apparent hazing death will prompt reforms - Florida governor

By Michael Peltier

TALLAHASSEE, Fla (Reuters) - Florida Governor Rick Scott on Friday vowed an investigation will discover the truth about the apparent hazing death of a drum major that shocked an historically black college and its renowned marching band.

Speaking to reporters, Scott said his office ordered Florida A&M University to postpone its own investigation into the death of Marching "100" drum major Robert Champion last month. State and local law enforcement officials will lead probes into the young man's death following what local police described as a hazing incident.

"We cannot have another child, another student, die this way," Scott said. "No one anticipates sending their child off to school and having any pressure like this."

Champion, 26, died November 19 following a performance by the internationally-acclaimed band at the annual Florida Classic football game against Bethune-Cookman University in Orlando. A 911 caller that night said Champion was vomiting, having difficulty breathing and was not responsive.

Earlier this week, FAMU President James Ammons told trustees of the college that four students were expelled in connection with the incident and said additional disciplinary action could be taken.

"This is not a time for silence; if there are cases of misconduct then we encourage people to report these to the proper authorities," Ammons wrote in a letter to FAMU trustees outlining efforts by the university following the tragedy.

Champion, a music major from Atlanta who served as one of six drum majors for the 375-member Marching "100" band, vomited and complained that he could not breathe in a band bus in the parking lot of a hotel after the game.

The Orange County medical examiner's office said a cause of death will not be known for about 10 weeks, but local law enforcement officials suspect Champion died following hazing aboard the bus.

Champion's parents said they would sue the university over the death of their son, who they described as a laid back, churchgoing young man who loved music.

Governor Scott on Thursday said in a letter to a top Florida university system official that he wants a statewide review of university policies regardless of what the pending investigation turns up.

"It must be clear to everyone that hazing or any other form of harassment will not be tolerated under any circumstance," Scott wrote.

Champion's death is not the first incident involving accusations of hazing and the band at the university.

A band member won a $1.8 million verdict in a civil battery suit against five band members for a 2001 hazing incident in which he was beaten so badly his kidneys shut down.

In 2006, a pair of FAMU fraternity students went to jail for a hazing incident that left the victim so bruised from paddling he required surgery.

A 2005 Florida law, passed after the death of a University of Miami student, bolstered penalties for hazing rituals that lead to great bodily harm or death.

After Champion's death, Ammons suspended the band's activities and fired director Julian White, who had led the band since 1998. White wants his job back and last week released a series of emails his attorney said prove that he had long been concerned about hazing practices within the band.

White said his actions included a decision in November to suspend 26 band members for hazing activities.

(Editing by Greg McCune)